New Delhi: While indicating that the Covid pandemic could be declared over soon, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called out China for not sharing data from three years ago that could prove to be a vital piece of the puzzle that is the origin of the Covid pandemic.
Genomic sequences collected in 2020 from the Huanan market in Wuhan, the suspected epicentre of the pandemic, were uploaded by the Chinese Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in January on a global platform studying the origins of Covid-19. The data was subsequently deleted.
Tedros said the data does not provide any definitive answer to the question of how the pandemic began, “but every piece of data is important in moving us closer to that answer”.
He also emphasised that every piece of data relating to studying the origins of Covid-19 needs to be shared with the international community immediately.
“These data could have — and should have — been shared three years ago,” Tedros said.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, a member of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said the incident shows that there is data from the beginning of the pandemic with China that is not being made available for the international community.
The WHO did not clearly elaborate on what the data was. However, Van Kerkhove said that it confirmed the presence of raccoon dog meat at the market. From previous research, it is known the raccoon dogs can be susceptible to SARS viruses.
Tedros added, “We continue to call on China to be transparent in sharing data, and to conduct the necessary investigations and share the results.”
Understanding how the pandemic began, he said, is a moral and scientific imperative.
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The Wuhan market
The genomic sequences in question were from Wuhan’s Huanan market — which is known for its sale of exotic meats. It is widely suspected to be the epicentre of the SAR-CoV-2. However, so far, there is no clarity on how the disease originated.
Many experts believe the virus accidentally leaked out of the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Genomic sequences from early samples of the virus can play a vital role in identifying the origin of the pandemic that killed over 68 lakh people worldwide.
According to Tedros, last Sunday, the WHO learnt about data uploaded from the Chinese CDC, which related to samples taken at the Huanan market in 2020, on GISAID, a global platform where scientists from across the globe share genomic sequences.
The platform has been helping scientists track new variants around the world over the last three years of the pandemic.
“While it was online, scientists from a number of countries downloaded the data and analysed it. As soon as we became aware of this data, we contacted the Chinese CDC and urged them to share it with WHO and the international scientific community so it can be analysed,” Tedros added.
“We also convened the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, or SAGO, which met on Tuesday,” he said.
Tedros said they asked “researchers from the Chinese CDC and the international group of scientists to present their analyses of the data to SAGO”.
But the data was removed.
Three years after the pandemic was first declared, the origins of the virus continue to be a mystery. Despite multiple attempts to send an international team to China to study the origins, scientists have alleged that Chinese authorities have prevented an unbiased investigation.
End of Covid as a public health emergency?
Meanwhile, on a positive note, Tedros said he was pleased to see that, for the first time, the weekly number of reported deaths in the past four weeks has been lower than when the pandemic was first declared.
“I am confident that this year we will be able to say that Covid-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern,” he added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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